Watching newcomer Fefe Dobson jumping around onstage to the rhythm of thrashing guitars, she looks like the typical pop-rocker girl, with a tough attitude and sneering voice.
Typical in every way but one. With her caramel hue, the biracial Canadian is unusual even in 2003. Musical acts are still tightly compartmentalized by genre and race -- and few are able to break the mold.
But artists like Fefe and another teenage newcomer, Joss Stone -- a white British singer with the voice of an old soul veteran -- are trying to break out of the musical stereotypes in an industry where image and artistry are inextricable.
"When people are like 'Oh, you sound black' and all this, I'm like, I sound like me," says Joss.
It's possible for artists to cross over, in either direction. The white singer Justin Timberlake got plenty of urban radio airplay with his disc "Justified," and black acts like Living Colour, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray and others have appealed to rock and alternative radio formats.
Still, it's rare -- and rarer still for two high-profile teenage girls to come along at the same time in the "wrong" categories.
"The charts would indicate that it still is a challenge," says music mogul Clive Davis. "There aren't too many examples of it when you go up and down the urban charts. You can see only the rarified few are able to do it, for a white artist on an R&B chart."
At a glance, with her long blonde hair and hip-hugging pants, the lanky Joss -- real name Joscelyn Stoker -- looks like a Britney Spears in training. But when she opens her mouth to sing, a soulful voice that rivals Beyonce's pours out.
"Maybe my voice doesn't fit my body," Joss acknowledges. Judging by the slew of media attention her debut album, "The Soul Sessions," has received since its September release, others agree.
But she can't understand why it's become such a big deal.
"Music has no color. How can it have a color because you can't see it? How can you say that I sound black or white, or purple or pink or whatever?" she asks.
But in music, people hear more than just sounds. Usually, the more "soulful" one sounds, the "blacker" they are assumed to be.
Elvis Presley caused an uproar in his early days for "sounding black"; one of the early criticisms of Whitney Houston was she sounded "white" because her music wasn't heavily R&B, plus her voice didn't linger or riff on many notes.
Felicia "Fefe" Dobson, whose self-titled debut was released earlier this month on Island Records, said she initially had a deal in her native Canada with Zomba/Jive, home to Spears, Timberlake and R. Kelly. But executives there had her sing pop and R&B, she says -- not the driving rock beat that she loved.
"I thought, there's something wrong here -- I need more guitar, I need something," she recalls.
Fefe eventually got out of her deal and signed with Island/Def Jam, where label head Lyor Cohen encouraged her sound from the moment he first saw her perform.
"Being biracial, my mom being white and my dad being black, I always found it hard to know who liked me, what I belonged to. I had problems with it," Fefe says. "Knowing that they saw it as a beautiful thing was really what inspired me to just feel confidence in this business ... (to) not feel ashamed of being a dark-skinned girl doing rock 'n' roll."
Black artists who don't do R&B or hip-hop have often found it tough to get radio play. Urban stations usually won't play it because it doesn't fit their sound, while other stations will label them urban simply because they're black.
But Fefe has gotten a push from MTV, and her song "Take Me Away" has gotten airplay on pop and adult contemporary station
Whereas Fefe sounds a bit like Avril Lavigne, Joss sounds like old soul, and her album is filled with classic R&B interpretations ranging from the sultry Isley Brothers classic "For the Love of You" to the White Stripes' "Fell In Love With A Girl."
Joss grew up listening to singers like Aretha Franklin and Al Green, and didn't want to change to conform with what was being played on Top 40 radio.
"I want to be a singer," she says. "I'm not going to go sing pop just because I'm a white girl with blonde hair."
She didn't have to after meeting soul enthusiast Steve Greenberg, president of S-Curve Records, who immediately fell in love with her talent.
"A lot of people have acrobatic voices, and can hit a lot of exciting notes, but not a lot of young people can wrap their voice around a sentiment," he says.
Joss admits the contrast between her looks and her voice has probably helped raise her profile.
"I have had it easy," she said. "I feel like I've kind of jumped the line a little bit."